Ibsen and Wilde's Female Protagonists

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Ibsen and Wilde present their female protagonists as secretive women who hide the truth. To what extent do you agree that Nora and Mrs Arbuthnot are both performers?

In Victorian society there was a lot of pressure and expectation put on the institution of marriage, and mainly the women, to act in specific ways, particularly to be faithful and adhere to their duties, and the bulk of dramas aired in the Victorian era complimented this. So much so that Ibsen was told to re-write the ending of his play, as “A Doll’s House” was so shocking that it was deemed unfit for society, for its content of a hidden past of a middle class woman shown in this play by Nora, particularly at the ending as she leaves the institution of marriage. “A Woman of No Importance” was also seen as scandalous, for its favourable portrayal of a “Fallen Woman” in Mrs Arbuthnot. Wilde believed that women were not given the right they deserved, thinking that they were treated unjustly.

Nora has a hidden past, which she does her best to keep concealed by having a façade of happiness to please her husband, engaging with him in child-like treatment and games, showing how little respect men had for Victorian women, treating them as children, “Poor little Nora – of course you couldn’t, you did your best to please us - that’s the main thing”. This reflects the idea of Nora being the forced doll in the house. She also comments that this was the same with her father, Nora has always felt pressured to act in ways untrue to herself by men. The act of hiding feelings was expected of society, and when Nora finally shows some emotion, in the tarantella, Dr Rank asks Torvald if she is expecting, which shows how the Victorian men did not consider either the emotional or thought processes and problems that women may go through, his only way of explaining it is through a biological condition. This could link to the Victorian fascination (and male dominated) world of science. Nora’s entrance to the play is loud and flamboyant, appearing like a well off woman, who is lax with money. It is important for Nora to keep up this appearance for fear of being discovered as something other than the ideal wife, even to her husband. It could also be argued that the playing at being a perfect wife was before she truly found herself, and realise that she was not being true to her wishes. “Has my little featherbrain been out spending money again?” shows how little Torvald knows about his wife, that she has not really spent any unnecessary money on herself in years, but keeps up the façade of doing so. This relates to Victorian writing such as “The Angel of the House” by Coventry Patmore, whereby the ideal woman of the house must be all of these things and more, with a lot of pressure to adhere to the wishes of society. At the end of the play, Nora flees from this. To a Victorian audience this would be atrocious, as this was a woman’s job, which she is not able to do. This too would be disgraceful in their eyes. Alternatively, this could be seen as an inspiring feminist act of liberation, and open the eyes of certain members in the audience. Mrs Arbuthnot, contrastingly, enters into the back of the stage wearing entirely black, cloaked and veiled. This is so she doesn’t get noticed by those around her, opposite to Nora she hides away from society, where as Nora has to appear comfortable in society. Mrs Arbuthnot is also making a statement about why she has a child with no husband by wearing black, this puts her in appearance of mourning (as Queen Victoria was well known to wear black for the entirety of her life after her husband died). It is also derived that Mrs Arbuthnot is hiding behind her religion in doing this, and so people would assume that she adhered to the laws of their morality. Whilst Nora’s entrance is melodramatic and exciting, Mrs Arbuthnot would be seen as a dull character, “I love so much out of the world and see so few people”. She keeps herself away from society,...
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